Armada’s Clapperton leading the Q despite size

Christopher Clapperton had 20 points in eight games to start the season (Richard Wolowicz/Getty)

BOISBRIAND, QUE. — The Quebec Major Junior League has won three consecutive Memorial Cup championships with three different franchises (Saint John, Shawinigan and Halifax), so a team going undefeated through the first few weeks of the QMJHL season is bound to attract attention. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada moved to the top of the CHL Top 10 last week with a 6-0-0-0 start. It was reason enough to take in a game against the Quebec Remparts at the Centre d’Excellence Sports Rousseau.

I’m not going far out on the limb here, but I suspect that the Armada won’t be pulling down their league’s fourth straight Memorial Cup. Yeah, the home team won their eighth consecutive game but did so unimpressively. Sure the game didn’t lack excitement: Blainville-Boisbriand trailed 2-1 late in the third period before Christopher Clapperton (great name) tied the game on a power play and Daniel Wolcott scored the winner on another power play in overtime. The crowd of 2,704 seemed entertained by it all, but I hope they keep a sense of perspective about things.

Quebec is a middle-of-the-pack club (note: three 17-year-old defencemen and a 16-year-old), one that might be looking to tear down for next season and a push for the Memorial Cup. The Armada beat the Remparts in large part by some forgiving work by officials: six straight minors to Quebec through to the OT. Let’s just say you’d have a hard time mounting a case that this is the CHL’s best junior team based on that 62-minute sample. Same can be said of the first eight games of the season. Said one league exec: “(Blainville-Boisbriand) wasn’t anyone’s pick to win the league this year. They’re just a bunch of good junior players who are well coached and work hard. Will they be around at the end? They look like a team that could make the semi-finals, maybe.”

At the top of that list of good junior players is Clapperton, the QMJHL leader in points this year with six goals and 14 assists in eight games after the win over Quebec. The scoring run isn’t a big surprise. A 19-year-old drafted in the fifth round by the Florida Panthers, Clapperton scored 35 goals and 77 points last year during the regular season and followed up with 20 points in 15 playoff games. There might be a question of the left winger’s high end: Clapperton is generously listed at 5’10” and 187 pounds and doesn’t look to possess the breakaway speed that a player of that size would need for big success at the next level. In the major juniors, though, he has all that you’d expect out of a first-line player on a contending team. The Armada was starved for goals though out-playing the Remparts (shots 45-20), and Clapperton not only notched the single but set up the chances that led to the other two Blainville goals.

Clapperton’s numbers are even more impressive considering he’s doing it in a relative vacuum. The second leading scorer on the team is a Latvian import, Nikita Jevpalovs, a left wing/centre who has at least three inches and 25 pounds on Clapperton. The 19-year-old Jevpalovs has managed to pass through the NHL draft a couple of times but has also managed to score seven goals in his first eight major junior games. It will be interesting to track his progress if he’s still figuring out the game in the Q. (He’s not exactly a neophyte on the small rink, however, having played midget hockey in Ontario.)

Another player of interest for the Armada is Ryan Tesink, a fourth-year centre who first broke into the spotlight with Memorial Cup champion Saint John team back in 2011. Tesink looked to be a heady and useful player then and was drafted in the sixth round by the St. Louis Blues that June. The question about him was his size: decent height at six feet but a build suited for the marathon. If he grew and filled out, he might have pro prospects. As it stands, though, he’s still under, maybe well under, 170. That he’s had a history of injury at this size is no big surprise. Again, like Clapperton, a useful player at this level and one with as much playoff experience as anyone (40 Q league playoff tilts plus those in the Memorial Cup).

Still, the Armada doesn’t look anything like the powerhouse Halifax squad of last spring. None of the players on the Armada roster looks anything like Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. When you ask folks around the league who will head to the Memorial Cup next spring, Rimouski is the first team they cite, mostly because of a solid back end led by Samuel Morin. If Blainville-Boisbriand finish in the CHL’s Top 10 at the end of the season, it would be an upset of a small degree. Likewise, if they make the Q final, this undefeated start not withstanding.

Other notes from Boisbriand: Leafs draftee (fifth round, 2013) Fabrice Herzog picked up both goals for Quebec and Ottawa Senators draftee (sixth round, 2012) Francois Brassard was the best player in the game with 42 saves for the visitors. Quebec left wing Anthony Duclair (Rangers third round, 2013), a kid who was a teammate and pretty much the equal of Drouin with Lac Saint-Louis going into the Q league draft in 2011, fell off after a good rookie season and struggled on Sunday. A couple of undisciplined third-period penalties ended up costing his team, leading to Clapperton’s goal.

CHL Game of the Week: The Guelph Storm (4-2-0-0) might be softened up by games against Ottawa and Belleville the two previous nights. On Sunday, they will face a rested Kingston Frontenacs team with a perfect record through seven games but for a single shootout loss.

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